Candlemas - 2nd February
To-day, February 2nd, is Candlemas, a much overlooked festival these days but once a very important feast day within several traditions, both Christian and Pagan.
In the Christian tradition February 2nd (40 days after Christmas) is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts, and is sometimes called Hypapante (lit., 'Meeting' in Greek). Other traditional names include Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, La Fête de la Chandeleur, and the Meeting of the Lord. In many Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season. In the Church of England, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is a principal Feast, celebrated either on 2 February or on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February.
Traditionally the Western term "Candlemas" (or Candle Mass) referred to the practice whereby a priest on 2 February blessed beeswax candles for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home. In Poland the feast is called Święto Matki Bożej Gromnicznej (Święto, "Holiday" + Matka Boska, "Mother of God" + Gromnica, "Thunder"). This name refers to the candles that are blessed on this day and called gromnicy, since these candles are lit during (thunder) storms and placed in windows to ward off the storm.
The date of Candlemas is established by the date set for the Nativity of Jesus, for it comes forty days afterwards. Under Mosaic Law as found in the Torah, a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain for three and thirty days "in the blood of her purification." Candlemas therefore corresponds to the day on which Mary, according to Jewish law, should have attended a ceremony of ritual purification. The month's name, February, actually comes from the Latin name Februa, meaning purification.
Of course, the feast day replaces a much older Pagan feast day, Imbolc. It is one of the four cardinal points in the ancient Celtic calendar, and represents the middle of the Winter Year, halfway between the gates of Samhain (Halloween) and Beltane (May Day). In medieval Ireland the day was sacred to St. Brigid (Bríd), thought by many to be a Christianised form of an ancient triple goddess of the same name. Her feast marks the start of Spring and the beginning of the lambing season. Traditionally libations of milk were poured upon the ground on this day to ensure good crops and healthy livestock, as well as the lighting of bonfires to purify and ward off evil spirits. An ancient cross (shown here), known as a St. Brigid's Cross (usually woven from reeds), is a celtic symbol similar to the swastika, and represents the cardinal feast days and the turning of the year.
In the USA to-day is Groundhog Day. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks. The event probably has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear was the prognosticator (as opposed to the groundhog).
On my image I have included the coat-of-arms of the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers, an ancient London guild at one time responsible for regulation of the production of beeswax candles, whose Guild Hall on Gresham Street I had the pleasure to visit last summer. Since the Dissolution of the Monastries by Henry VIII they largely focus their attentions on the propagation of bee-keeping and honey production.
Happy Candlemas/ Imbolc/ Groundhog Day!